British researchers develop the world's first stem cell therapy to cure what has been the most common cause of blindness.
The research team believes that the procedure, which can tackle age-related macular degeneration (AMD), will become a routine, one-hour method that will be generally available in six or seven years' time.
The treatment was pioneered by scientists and surgeons from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and Moorfields eye hospital, and involves replacing a layer of degenerated cells with new ones created from embryonic stem cells, reports The Times.
In the new treatment, embryonic stem cells are transformed into replicas of the missing cells. They are then placed on an artificial membrane which is inserted in the back of the retina.
Tom Bremridge, chief executive of the Macular Disease Society, said: "This is a huge step forward for patients. We are extremely pleased that the big guns have become involved, because, once this treatment is validated, it will be made available to a huge volume of patients."
Laboratory trials completed by the British team, led by Professor Pete Coffey, director of the London Project to Cure Blindness, have demonstrated that stem cells can prevent blindness in rats with a similar disease to AMD.
Coffey said the treatment would take "less than an hour, so it really could be considered as an outpatient procedure. We are trying to get it out as a common therapy".